My great granddad used to say, “When you have one boy, you have a whole boy. When you have two boys, you have only half a boy. And when you have three boys, you don’t have any boy at all.”
It took a lot of years for me to understand the math in his wisdom, but I get it now: When you have more than one boy, suddenly you have these extra companions that tag along, and their names are Adventure, Machismo, Silliness, and Ridiculous Choices.
Most often at my house, the third child’s name is Silliness, and he is a formidable foe. I cannot win when Silliness has joined us.
Now, here’s the thing. There’s a difference between Funny and Silly. I love Fun and Funny. I mean, I really love Fun and Funny. I love making memories, I love making each other laugh, and I love making grand life moments with a splash of Fun or Funny. But Silly is just three times bigger than anything else, and there’s no reining him in. He’s loud and controlling, he takes their good ideas and crumbles them into messes they won’t be cleaning up, and worst of all, he leaves no room for my good friend Common Sense. Once Silliness is on board, the only way to find my real—funny, fun, smart, creative—children again is to divide and conquer. Separate them, and now silliness has nobody to hang out with.
This happened last night. We were well past the bedtime window, that narrow time frame when I am dangerously close to turning into a Gremlin after midnight. I could hear them laughing in their bunkbeds—and not just joyful giggling, but actually the out-of-control kind of laughter that I wish I could enjoy but I know it’s only a freight train to something getting broken, likely expensive furniture or the limb of a child. I walked in there, and I handed the instigator a pen and paper.
“Here. Write ‘It is bedtime and I should be sleeping.’”
“How many times do I have to write it?”
“Until you fall asleep.”
This is my favorite Go-To Parenting Strategy: Pencil and Paper. I have them write for lots of reasons.
“You made your brother late for football practice, and so now you will write this sentence 25 times: I will be on time so the people in my family can be on time.”
“You left your string cheese wrappers on the couch, and so now you will write this sentence 15 times: I will respect my home and take responsibility for my trash.”
“You were dishonest about getting your homework finished, so now you will write this sentence 50 times: I will be honest with my mom and Peter.”
“Mom, can I write ‘Dad’ instead?”
And then I act like the efficient disciplinarian, like this doesn’t melt my heart, I say, “Yes, of course.”
And the brother chimes in, “No! He’s cheating! Peter has 5 letters and Dad only has three letters! He’s not doing all the work!”
As if that is even remotely the point.
You guys, it worked like a charm. He had something to do with his hands, he had a channel for his thoughts, and he had a repetitive action to complete until sleep found him. This morning, when I went in to wake him, there lay the open notebook, splayed with a pencil across the open spine. He finished seven whole sentences.
He said, “Sorry I didn’t write more, Mom. I was just really, really tired.”
And that, my sweet child, was exactly kind of the exact point exactly.